Sunday, April 20, 2014

religion and culture intertwine

we didn't baptize sabin as a baby. i was reminded today, during easter services at the local church, why we didn't baptize her. there were two babies being baptized and in both cases, when the minister asked the question of whether the child believed in god and accepted the whole jesus christ story, the mother answered "yes" on the child's behalf. so two children were indoctrinated into a faith without having any say in it or knowledge of it themselves. which is precisely what i didn't want for sabin. i wanted her to understand and accept for herself when the time came. it's what my parents did for me (tho' i'm not sure if it was on purpose on their part or if baptizing the baby just wasn't really in fashion back then in the late 60s presbyterian church). whatever the reason, i am grateful and have done the same for sabin.

after the baptism part of the service was over, one of the families just left and didn't stay for the rest of the easter service. that struck me as a little bit harsh. kind of like a drive-in baptism. let's get it over with and get on to our party (and most importantly, our gifts). the grandparents sneaked out during the next song, as they missed out on leaving when the family themselves left.

the minister himself, a down-to-earth fellow who clearly didn't feel like shaving this morning (or possibly yesterday morning), despite it being probably the most important christian holiday, took it in stride, seeming not to even notice. he went on with his sermon. it was an easter sermon, of course, based on the reading of the easter story from one of the gospels (i'm not a biblical scholar, so don't ask me which one). it was the verse where the marys find jesus' tomb empty and there is talk of an earthquake and the appearance of an angel. he talked about how in the orthodox faith, people take it quite literally and on easter, greet one another with "he is risen, praise be, he is risen," or something along those lines.

he seemed quite cognizant of the fact that in today's denmark, people don't take the gospel quite so much as, well...gospel. it's more of a story and a culture and a metaphor that something bigger than us is there for us. we have chosen, in our culture, to call it jesus and god and the holy spirit, but what really matters is that this is a story that endures through the ages. and that, if we let it, it has the capacity to be a comfort to us in the midst of all of our other personal crises - deaths of those close to us, divorce, losing jobs, and the like. and somehow, it felt like he was ok with the family leaving after the baptism of their child, fully aware of the purposes the church serves in danish culture and his contribution to it. and the church was full (we and about a dozen others actually sat in extra chairs in the aisle, because every pew was filled), so he must derive some satisfaction from that.

confirmation is a big thing when you're a 7th grader in denmark. the preparations are held as part of the school day (thursday mornings from 8-9:30) throughout the school year, so if you should choose not to be part of it (which you are free to do), you would just go to school late that day. but i've told you about this before, so i won't rehash it all here. suffice it to say that sabin has chosen to be confirmed, which means that today, she had to be baptized. she's a teenager, so she didn't want to make a public spectacle out of it, so we arranged to do the baptism after today's easter service. i've had my issues with this minister, since he made sabin feel negated since he hadn't married, buried and baptized her family for four generations before meeting her at the first confirmation preparation course, but i have to say he won me over today with his pragmatic sermon and his scruffy beard. he was kind to her and understanding of her teenager-y angst about not being on public display. he talked to her kindly and when she answered for herself that she was accepting the christian faith, it was ok.

some part of me wishes she had chosen not to do it, mostly because as i heard those mothers accepting on behalf of their children today during the service, i thought about what a hard time i would have had, standing there lying in a church. because although i'm also raised in the tradition, i don't think i believe in it all in the same way anymore. but i believe she has gone into this with open eyes and that what she has accepted is to be an active part of the culture in which she is raised and in the western cultural tradition as a whole. i am also confident that she is an enlightened young woman and she is aware that the bible is a collection of stories with a historical basis and which are metaphors for meditation on the larger questions of life. we didn't baptize her because we wanted her to choose for herself and now she has, which is precisely what we wanted for her, that she would be the one to choose, not us. and next weekend, along with the rest of her peers and social group, she will be confirmed, not only into the church, but into the culture.

and there is something special about the ceremony of it all. i think that we, as humans, need ceremony in our lives. ceremonies around the different junctures - marriage, birth, puberty, winter and spring transitions and yes, death. the christian religion gives us that. and maybe that's not all bad.


Veronica Roth said...

Well, there you go. Nicely summed up Julie and I'm glad the baptism was handled in a gentle and diplomatic way. I didn't baptize mine either, or pierce the girl's ears until they were old enough to decide that they wanted holes in their heads. (ages 8 and 16 when they decided to go for the pierced ears)

Ariadne said...

Or probably we want to belong....and maybe Sabin wants what other teenagers have in Denmark, belonging to a culture, a religious group, a political party, a social media etc.AriadnefromGreece!

Feisty Harriet said...

I really appreciate this post. My religion doesn't offer baptism until you are 8, but that also seems pretty early to me. I like the idea of 12 or 13 much better because it seems like much more of a conscious choice and less of "this is what Mom/Dad wants" or "this is just what you do." I also think that mentality has a lot to do with how the parents approach religion, I think you've been pretty serious about letting Sabin make her own choice, and that is super important (and lacking in most places).


Molly said...

Love this post. We're also leaving it up to the girls to decide when they're ready, but this was a good reminder that we'll need to respect their decision when the time comes - despite how we may feel ... Good on you for doing just that.

Unknown said...

This is a rather startling story about almost forced conformity and state/school endorsed religion training as the central theme.

Expecting a teenager to make a rational, thoughtful and educated decision concerning social order, conformity and religion is similar to how the military functions. 18 year old recruits, after boot camp, are far more willing to go into harm's way than a person in their 30s.

Perhaps we are witnessing the Last Days of Secularism.

Jody Pearl said...

Allowing your child the ability to make choices is a gift and then to watch them make them is the gift that keeps on giving.